If the recent history of the Sacramento Philharmonic & Opera has felt like a symphony — with cresting highs, plunging lows and, as was the case last year, overwhelming silence — then this past season reached a long-overdue crescendo.
A full-scale reorganization, innovative business practices and grassroots community engagement efforts have breathed new life into the Capital Region orchestra, which announced its 2016-17 season in March as it concludes its most successful year in a decade.
“I can hear the artistic changes and the level rising and people working that much harder to make it even better,” says the organization’s executive director, Alice Sauro. “The circle of trust and excitement from the audiences to the musicians and back is one of the most exciting things that I’ve ever been a part of.”
By mid-March, the Sacramento Philharmonic & Opera had sold more than 15,000 tickets and enlisted over 1,050 full-season subscribers — the highest mark in 10 years.
So how did an organization teetering on the brink of existence just a year ago right the ship?
In 2014, the Sacramento Region Performing Arts Alliance, the organization under which the Sacramento Opera and Sacramento Philharmonic merged in 2013, brought in a consultancy team from Detroit to restore the orchestra to its former glory. The team implemented several innovations for the 2015-16 season, including reducing ticket pricing, expanding the schedule with a pop music series and community concerts, and rotating conductors — all of which will continue into the2016-17 season.
“I was thankful that they decided to reorganize quietly, and I’m glad: It has turned out great,” says principal flutist Mathew Krejci, who has played in Sacramento orchestras since 1979.
The orchestra’s “art invasions” — free public concerts everywhere from farmers’ markets to local libraries — have been particularly effective in reaching those with whom historically the organization has struggled to engage.
“We’re popping up all over the place so people get an idea of what else we can do, and we’re part of the community,” Sauro says. “It creates an ownership level for folks where it’s not so scary. This is their Sacramento Philharmonic & Opera. It belongs to the people of this region.”
Doubling the number of shows to include a mainstream pop music series (kicked off this year by The Music of Queen) has also drawn in thousands of new fans. Next year’s lineup will feature the music of the Beatles, David Bowie and the Beach Boys on the pops side, with heavyweights like Tchaikovsky and the long-awaited return of opera with “La Traviata” rounding out the classics.
The Sacramento Philharmonic & Opera concluded its 2015-16 season May 7 with Beethoven’s “Symphony No. 9,” a fitting testament to the endurance and importance of music. “People still go to the Louvre to see the Mona Lisa,” Krejci says, “and people are going to come to the orchestra concerts to hear the pieces that have withstood the test of time — the Beethoven symphonies, the Respighi tone poems — but at the same time, we like to give them a little bit of new stuff with one hand and give them a ‘warhorse’ with the other hand.”
While it remains to be seen if the Sacramento Philharmonic & Opera will endure in the same way as the classics of Beethoven, for another year at least, the Capital Region has its soundtrack back.